Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer
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Girls Are Leaving Boys Behind

 

Bill-Frayer-2010It no longer seems incomprehensible that the United States will elect a woman as President. Of course, the US is far behind in this respect. Women have already served as heads of state in Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Argentina, the Central African Republic, The United Kingdom, Portugal, Iceland, Norway, Belize, the Philippines, Pakistan, Germany, Ireland, Bangladesh, Poland, Canada, Rwanda, New Zealand, Switzerland, Finland, Indonesia, Chile, South Korea, Lithuania, Brazil, Denmark, and Thailand. I may have missed a few, but it will not be an extraordinary event when the US elects a female president. 

Although the US lags behind in electing female politicians and appointing women to head large corporations, girls are increasingly outperforming boys in school. Girls consistently have higher average GPS’s as high school seniors. According to the latest statistics I could find, women earn 58% of bachelor degrees, 62% of masters degrees, 53 % of doctoral degrees, 48% of medical degrees and 46% of law degrees in the United States, and these numbers are growing. 

As many readers already know, I now split my time between Maine and Ajijic. While in Maine I teach writing at our local community college. These days, my classes are dominated by women, both in numbers and in performance. Not all of my women students are excellent writers, but they are serious students. They show up for class, accept my feedback to revise their work, and achieve better grades consistently in my classes. Colleges across the country are increasingly populated by women. 

I volunteer at an intercity program which provides athletic facilities, a music room, homework help and college application assistance to middle school and high school students, mostly African immigrants in our city.  The homework area is consistently filled with girls who rush in after school to snag one of the computers and work on their assignments.  Eighty percent of the students who ask me to help them on their homework are girls.  The boys are more interested in playing soccer, basketball, and pool, when they’re not trying to sneak into the homework room to flirt with the girls. 

This is a wonderful trend for the girls, the women of the future, who will have many more opportunities than their mothers and grandmothers.  But it is a disturbing trend for the boys. I am, of course, aware that males in US society still enjoy many advantages because of their sex, but the trends are not favorable for them. 

It used to be true that men could get good jobs, usually working in factories, shipyards, as truck drivers, or learning trades as apprentices with only a high school education.  Not anymore. Most of the jobs lost in the recession of 2008 were male-dominated jobs.  More and more adult women are out-earning their male partners.  As the economy is changing from a manufacturing to a technology-centered service economy, women are thriving while men are lagging behind. 

I’ll never forget a young man I had in my English class several years ago.  He was a pleasant enough guy who attended class regularly, although he handed in few assignments and often fell asleep in class.  I invited him into my office to discuss his performance one day. I asked him what was going on.  He informed me that he was working full time while going to school.  I asked if he was living on his own.  No, he was living at home with his parents. “Why, then, are you working full time while trying to be a full time student,” I asked him. He replied that he had a big payment for his brand new, 4-wheel drive, heavy duty pickup truck which probably cost him over $25,000.  The sad fact is that he’s not the only young man making that kind of bad decision.  Predictably, he dropped out of school.  I hope he’s enjoying that truck. 

In fact, many young boys don’t have good role models anymore.  Some are raised by single moms.  Many spend their free time in their cars, playing video games, and working at dead-end jobs. The media is not much help, with  male characters in TV and movies often achieving success through violence and sexual dominance. 

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the work of cognitive neuroscientists Mara Mather, from USC, and Nichole Lighthall, from Duke, whose research indicated that under stressful conditions, men and women make decisions very differently. When under pressure, men tend to take greater risks and seek difficult-to-attain high rewards. Women, on the other hand, when under stress, make less-risky choices for more certain gains. In the real world, the safer bets often work out better. 

We should all be glad that girls are doing well in school and achieving success.  It (hopefully) means that some of the structural inequality that exists in society might finally even out, and women might achieve the rewards they deserve for their hard work. 

But I am worried about the boys.  For many boys, school is uninteresting, and they have trouble feeling good about it. Most of their interest and interaction is on the athletic field or with video games. As the girls outpace them and earn more money, the men often feel marginalized. It’s no surprise that most domestic violence and other violent crimes are perpetrated by men. Many men feel hopeless and don’t have good support systems.  They don’t have the emotional awareness and communication skills that many women do. 

Many educators and mental health professionals are aware of this problem.  We hear more about the plight of young boys. Books are being written about this issue, and more attention is being paid to the development of boys. In the meantime, the girls are working hard and succeeding in greater numbers. 

Who ever thought we’d have to worry about the men?

 

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